Bankruptcy’s “Fresh Start”

September 12, 2009

The principal theory of consumer bankruptcy in America is that it provides a “fresh start” to debtors. A prime example of this policy is found in the 1918 Supreme Court case of Stellwagen v. Clum in which the Court stated:

“This purpose of the act has been again and again emphasized by the courts as being of public, as well as private, interest, in that it gives to the honest but unfortunate debtor . . . a new opportunity in life and a clear field for future effort, unhampered by the pressure and discouragement of preexisting debt.”

The idea of giving a poor, but honest debtor a “fresh start” is not a modern concept. The Bible also contains debt forgiveness laws:

“At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord’s release.” Deuteronomy 15:1-2.

Under modern bankruptcy law a debtor is entitled to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge once every eight years. However, this is not a clean slate. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy can stay on your credit report up to 10 years, and you may encounter other obstacles after filing bankruptcy (e.g. obtaining credit). Several bankruptcy courts have described the Chapter 7 discharge as giving honest but unfortunate debtor a fresh start, not a head start.

Bankruptcy is a safety net when you are at the end of your rope. The Chapter 7 discharge provides a second chance and a new beginning free of creditor harassment. If you are burdened with debt, consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney and discover how a fresh start under the law can help you.



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